Doctor Who closes its seventh season with a trip to The Doctor’s (Matt Smith) grave and the return of River Song (Alex Kingston). So, how did the season finale fare?
Let’s bitch it out.
I had all my hopes for season redemption pinned on this finale, and unfortunately, I was left disappointed. This week the super friends return, including Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Strax (Dan Starkey) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart), all of whom hold a transcendental conference call with Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and River Song (woot!). Vastra encountered a murderer who ominously foretold, “The Doctor has a secret, you know, one he will take to the grave, and it is discovered.” The super friends convene to try and decipher what the nefarious secret is, but right from the get-go, motivations are unclear. I suppose Vastra believes The Doctor is in danger if this secret is to be revealed, the “grave” reference connoting his impending death. Granted, the set-up for the episode provides some definite intrigue, but I felt as if I was going through déjà vu as we’ve already explored The Doctor surmounting his impending death last season.
Inexplicably, the Great Intelligence shows up in the form of Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant) and his band of The Gentleman-like minions who kidnap the super friends in their physical forms while their minds are occupied in the conference call. They’re then transported to Trenzalore, the location of The Doctor’s tomb, some time in the distant future. Confused yet? The Doctor and Clara race off to Trenzalore to try and save them and the confusion continues to build from there. River comes along for the ride as an “echo”, a psychic projection that only Clara can see and hear since they still linked from the initial conference call.
Apparently the Great Intelligence wishes to enter The Doctor’s tomb, again, for reasons unknown (or ones that completely went over my head). The only way to enter the tomb, (which natch, is in the form of the TARDIS), is to utter The Doctor’s real name. In order to goat the infamous name out of The Doctor, Simeon orders his minions to attack the super friends and Clara by crushing their hearts. The Doctor pleads for their lives as the music swells, but magically, the tomb doors open. It is River who calls out the Doctor’s name to stop it all, but of course, we don’t hear what it is.
And this is where the episode loses me. There were so many questions piling up that at this point, I all but checked out. And here’s just a smattering of what was going through my head:
1) If River is the psychic projection, supposedly only seen/heard by Clara, then why does the uttering of the Doctor’s name trigger the opening of the tomb?
2) Why is the Great Intelligence so hell-bent on going in the tomb? Arguably it’s all in the name of revenge as The Doctor has foiled its two great plans for world domination as seen in “The Snowmen” or “The Bells of Saint John“. But there are so many variables to this plan (The Doctor showing up, reliance that he will utter his own name, knowing what’s even in the tomb), it’s a wonder why an entity known as “The Great Intelligence” would bank on such a harebrained scheme to take The Doctor down.
3) What is the point of those ominous minions? If they had the power to literally crush hearts, why didn’t they start obliterating The Doctor’s friends from the beginning? When Strax attempts to fight back, it’s clear these minions are invincible, so why wait to take down the super friends? Why not get at The Doctor in that way as opposed to this elaborate plan?
And the most important question:
4) Why am I meant to care about any of this?
And that question is something that I’ve struggled with throughout the entire second half of this seventh series. I simply don’t care about the evil that’s been popping up episode after episode. There just hasn’t been time to develop any investment. The one saving grace throughout the series has been Clara – who or what is she? We’re told (ad nauseam) that she’s the impossible girl, and ‘was born to save The Doctor’, but why?
Once we get in the tomb, the Great Intelligence decides to enter what’s left of The Doctor after death – his timeline. A luminous twirling holograph represents “scar tissue”; The Doctor’s impact on the world. Entering this timeline will kill you, tearing you apart, but fragmenting you into the various time points that comprise The Doctor’s life. Determined to ruin The Doctor, Simeon enters the timeline in order to reverse all of The Doctor’s victories. The universe starts to reset itself as a result, which means the disappearance of both Jenny and Strax, and who knows who else. Clara, brave as ever, decides to go into the timeline as well, to counteract the Great Intelligence and save The Doctor, therefore resetting the reset timeline. Head spinning yet? What follows is archival footage of Doctor Who, with Simeon, then Clara pasted in.
Despite the confusion, I’ll admit this serves as an adequate way explain how Clara was able to turn up and save The Doctor where we’ve previously seen her. What it fails to answer, however, is why she decides to do it. After only spending a short time with The Doctor in comparison to other companions, it’s slightly far-fetched to buy into the fact that Clara would sacrifice herself in such a way.
I suppose I could have been on board with Clara’s choice if indeed, she was sentenced to die, split up into a million pieces and scattered through the timeline. Clara has always exhibited an altruistic disposition, and if she were able to stop the Great Intelligence, she would be saving countless lives in addition to The Doctor’s. But we know that Coleman isn’t going to leave the position as companion anytime soon, so Clara actually dying isn’t going to happen.
So – of course – The Doctor goes into his own timeline to try and save her. Perhaps it can all be explained away with the notion that she’s “the impossible girl”, but it still doesn’t explain how she was “born” to save The Doctor. Is this referring to how it was her destiny to jump into that timeline? If so, then wasn’t she meant to “die” to save The Doctor? Semantics I know, but seeing as this episode hinges on grammatical know-how to navigate through its narrative riddles, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to dissect Clara’s repeated proclamation delivered throughout the episode.
The Doctor does manage to find Clara (intact) in what I’m assuming are the depths of his mind, only to find a shadowy figure standing along side that isn’t one of his previous incarnations. We get a triumphant reveal – John Hurt as The Doctor, to be (hopefully) explained come November 23, 2013 when the 50th Anniversary Special airs.
I honestly don’t know what to make of this episode, as I’m left thoroughly confused and frustrated. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have the kind of archival knowledge of the show I need to get fully on board with all this timey-wimey, paradoxical gibber jabber, but as a viewer who has enjoyed the show in the past, I felt abandoned by this finale. Why should I be excluded?
I believe I watched this episode carefully enough to try and follow along to comprehend, but when there are too many questions and not enough answers, I don’t think that’s successful television. Perhaps the gaps will be filled in come the big 50th Anniversary special, but I feel if an episode can’t stand alone (or relatively, on it’s own) it ultimately results in the loss of my interest. I’ve been confused by Doctor Who in the past, but there was investment to propel my desire to understand. I simply can’t say the same about “In the Name of The Doctor”.
- One thing I did appreciate is The Doctor’s acknowledgement about actively choosing his ambiguous moniker, “The Doctor” and the persona that accompanied it. John Hurt’s appearance signals to a point in The Doctor’s past that he has actively disavowed, hence Eleven’s ending proclamation that Hurt’s actions were not done “in the name of The Doctor”. It does provide some significant curiosity leading into the 50th Anniversary Special, even if getting to this point was incredibly confusing.
- The strongpoint of the series remains – Matt Smith is just superb as The Doctor, cycling through a veritable potpourri of emotions, each one portrayed with touching authenticity. I particularly loved how he transitioned from an adorable bout of ‘blind man’s bluff’ into incredible sadness and regret when he hears about Trenzalore. Smith as The Doctor has never been the issue – it’s the plot points that get us to these emotional bits that I have a problem with.
- It was a delight to see River Song back into the mix, even if the explanation of her appearance makes little to no sense. Kingston has incredible chemistry with Smith and their scenes are always an absolute pleasure to watch. Although their final moments read like a goodbye scene, I’m still holding hope that she’ll return in later episodes.
- The same can be said of the chemistry between Smith and Coleman. The devotion that The Doctor and Clara have to one another, despite the short time they’ve shared, is believable and touching. Perhaps that’s why I’m so frustrated with this episode because I want to understand the true nature of Clara and why she’s so devoted to The Doctor.
What did you think viewers? Do you think I’m completely unfair in my assessment of the episode and I should just “go with it”? Do you feel like you understand who/what Clara is? How will they escape The Doctor’s timeline? Do you think River Song will ever return? Will the super friends be back for more adventures? How does John Hurt fit into the scheme of things? Give us your theories in the comments below.
Doctor Who completed its seventh season and returns with its 50th Anniversary Special on November 23, 2013 (hopefully to provide some answers).